The Sun Has 'Gone Blank' And Science Says We Should All Be Freaking Out
So, don't go into full panic mode yet. But the sun has gone completely blank for the second time this month.
There were no sunspots on the star's surface starting on June 4 for four days. It was the first time that had happened since 2011. Now, it's happened again.
So, what's the deal?
Here's the good news: This is completely normal. A lack of sunspots shows that the sun is nearing the next solar minimum.
It'll go blank for days at a time, then weeks and then months.
According to Paul Dorian, a meteorologist at Vencore Weather, the next solar minimum phase is expected to take place around 2019 or 2020.
The current solar cycle is the 24th since 1755 when extensive recording of solar sunspot activity began and is the weakest in more than a century with the fewest sunspots since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906.
We're seven years into Solar Cycle 24. The solar maximum was back in April 2014, but experts noted that the number of sunspots in this maximum phase were some of the lowest since 1755.
S0 now, here's the bad news: We could be heading for a mini ice age.
The last time the sun experienced a prolonged phase of no sunspots, it ushered in something scientists refer to as, "The Maunder Minimum."
This was back in 1645. The years that followed were bitterly cold, with below-average temperatures felt by both North America and Europe.
It's bad news for astronauts as well. Paul explained,
Solar wind decreases and sun's magnetic field weakens during solar minimums, making it easier for cosmic rays to reach the earth. This is a more dangerous time for astronauts, as the increase in potent cosmic rays can easily shatter a strand of human DNA. Also, during years of lower sunspot number, the sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation (EUV) drops and the earth's upper atmosphere cools and contracts. With sharply lower aerodynamic drag, satellites have less trouble staying in orbit: a good thing. On the other hand, space junk tends to accumulate, making the space around Earth a more dangerous place for astronauts.
Ouch. Enjoy the summer while it lasts, OK?